My View: Clean Air Corridor could lead to healthy students, community

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - PSU student Alexander Bersani smokes outside the Unitus building on campus down town before heading into class. PSU plans to ban smoking on campus.  For many of us, our college years are a time of transition and experimentation. As we made the leap from our teenage years to adulthood, we weren’t necessarily aware of the dangers of smoking.

However, while smoking rates are decreasing among many age groups, the college years have been identified as a time of increased risk for smoking initiation and transition from experimental to regular tobacco use.

Of the nearly half-million Oregonians who smoke, more than 20 percent are between 18 and 24. The Surgeon General’s 2012 report, “Preventing Tobacco Use among Youth and Young Adults,” notes that 90 percent of all smokers start before 18, and 99 percent start before 26.

That’s why we are so proud that recently we helped launch the 2013 Fresh Air Campus Challenge here in Portland. The challenge tasks colleges and universities in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington to commit to protecting the health of their students by adopting tobacco-free or smoke-free campus policies.

This challenge can protect students, staff and faculty from secondhand smoke, and encourage a social norm change that will reduce tobacco use. Smoking remains the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Through the adoption of the Clean Air Corridor and the recent ban on smoking in the Urban Plaza, Portland State University is building the momentum to become a Fresh Air Campus.

The PSU process will continue, and will include campus discussions. To date, more than 1,100 higher education institutions have gone tobacco- or smoke-free. And on July 1, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services instituted a 100 percent tobacco-free policy to protect the health of its 80,000 employees who work in dozens of facilities across the country.

We hope the launch of the 2013 Fresh Air Campus Challenge will encourage all institutions of higher learning to take similar action.

Regardless of age, those who stop smoking and using tobacco can substantially reduce their risk for disease. We encourage anyone who is interested in quitting to seek help with a smoking-cessation program, such as the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line, or through their health insurance plans.

Many people may not be aware that, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, most private health insurance plans must cover the cost of cessation interventions for tobacco users. is also an invaluable resource that includes general information on tobacco, federal and state laws and policies, health statistics and evidence-based methods on how to quit.

The most important thing we have in this life is our health. With the Fresh Air Challenge, we can begin, at Portland State University, to improve public health through tobacco-free and smoke-free environments. And PSU students can use their knowledge of the dangers of smoking to protect their health and those around them.

Dr. Howard K. Koh is assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Jackie Balzer is vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at Portland State University.

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